Mrs Gil Harrison, who owns the Willow Bean Restaurant/Café at Willowmead Junction in Rolf Valley, is one of Zimbabwe’s consummate caterers and event management specialists.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
Nine years ago she organised the first Standard Restaurant of the Year Awards brunch while still running The Gables at Glen Lorne (now Thorn Tree Lodge) and she went on, herself, to win many accolades in that prestigious competition until it fell victim to Zimbabwe’s lousy economy last August.
Not only is she a foodie of note, she’s a hands on, sleeves rolled up practical person.
A real “let’s make a plan Zimbo!” When the Rolf Valley stream burst its banks recently, after more than 114mm of rain fell in under an hour, and flooded her restaurant, it was all hands to the pumps; mops, buckets and disinfectants were issued to staff and friends, hubby was roped in to locate and fit new compressors on fridges and freezers (and to make sure the electrical wiring in the gum-pole and thatch construction was safe) and in less than half a day the eatery was back in full swing.
It was as popular as I’ve ever seen it when I called for lunch on Tuesday, my first visit since 2011. As always, the menu is a bewildering array of temptation: mouthwatering aromas of fine coffee waft around the area; chalk board items distract you from the printed menu; lovely baked items in retro glass display cases shout “eat me!”
I keep planning to go for breakfast, which varies between US$5 for anchovy toast to US$13 for a full-on Full Monty “English” breakfast — eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, fried banana and toast — of the type that few stay-at-home Pommies see these days.
At Willow Bean, you can eat indoors, on a verandah overlooking the now muddy stream which caused all the trouble (and sandbagged against further surges), in a lush, bird-filled garden or under shade umbrellas in a sort of courtyard between the coffee shop and a plant nursery.
There are recent local and overseas newspapers and glossy magazines to help while away the time. These seem very popular with yummy mummies waiting to collect kids from nearby St John’s College and with leggy blazer wearing 6th form types waiting for yummy mummies to pick them up after school!
I was fairly hungry, and the superb crisp salads (US$5-US$15) which have sufficed in the past and are a huge hit with the lovely ladies who lunch long and languidly didn’t really appeal on this occasion.
Neither did pleasant pastas (US$13-US$17.) I recall having splendid soups there, but none appeared on menu or chalk board on this visit.
After much mental deliberation I decided on grilled pork chops rarebit-style (a cooking method to ensure the meat doesn’t become dry) with creamy mustard mashed potatoes and a wide array of roast, moist colourful vegetables (especially peppers and carrots.)
There were two medium sized pork chops, beautifully grilled and the dish was colourfully presented and filling, but—in retrospect—I’m not sure it was great value for money, these days, at US$18.
I’m off the red meat again, otherwise may have had the marinated beef fillet steak with chips, baked potato or couscous at the same price, which sounds about right, price-wise. Shouldn’t pork be cheaper than beef?
Lemon and herb piri-piri chicken at US$17 again sounds a bit pricey when compared to most outlets in Harare (from about US$9-US$13) but comparisons can be odious (and misleading).
A 250g beef or chicken burger with home-made cherry onion relish at US$14 compares reasonably favourably with like dishes at similar operations.
I suspect Gil knows the dining out public is getting less sanguine about simply paying through the nose the bottom lines restaurateurs demand.
A notice on the walls says they have re-sourced their milk supplies and as a result reduced the price of coffees recently.
Also, pensioners can now buy cappuccino or filter coffee for US$1 a cup any day and on Saturdays there’s an across-the-board discount of 10% on bills amounting to more than US$30.
For pudding I had a very fruit-rich chocolate brownie and a single scoop of vanilla ice-cream, one of three items on a menu which says its US$6, but which was US$5 on the bill. Bottom line: pork chops, pudding and two pots of Tanganda tea: US$27.
There’s an Easter Fayre at Willow Mead/Willow Bean today (yes, I know it’s three weeks early!) from 8:30am-1:30pm with an Easter egg hunt for the kids at 11am. Willow Bean is doing a two-course Easter-theme English roast lunch for US$15 a pop. I was invited but I’ll be in, or on my way back from, The Vumba.
They are not licensed (to sell grog) but feel free to BYOB; there’s no corkage fee.
Willow Bean, Rolf Valley (near St John’s) Opens Monday-to-Friday 8am-5pm; Saturday and Sunday 8am-3pm. Tel 850294. Child and handicapped friendly. Smoking/no smoking. Pleasant background music. Free reading matter. Takeaways and outside catering; event management.